A coffee mug sitting on an empty table

 

Written by Jacob Terranova

 

Each funeral home has a unique story to tell. But if you go back far enough, a lot of funeral homes have a common origin story.

 

Many of the original funeral home owners in America were actually in a different line of work altogether.

 

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From Furniture to Funerals

In the early 1800s, DIY funerals were the norm. Families were responsible for the care and burial of a loved one after they passed. They would have the funeral at home where the body would be washed, prepped for burial, and then buried in a family plot or in the family’s backyard.

 

It was largely a family affair. There wasn’t much paperwork to fill out, and nobody was sent to contact a mortician to handle the arrangements. The only outsider called upon would be the local carpenter or cabinet maker, who would assist in making a simple coffin for the family.

 

From Cabinets to Coffins

As rural villages grew into booming cities, the funeral profession slowly began to grow alongside them. Along the way, there were a variety of factors that helped lay the foundation of the funeral profession we know today.

  • Rural homes were traditionally built with large living rooms, or parlors. It was common to hold the funeral service in the parlor, but as more people moved to urban cities the homes were built smaller. This left little room for parlors or large gatherings.
  • After the Civil War, embalming grew in popularity. Morticians would come to the family’s home and embalm the body, using the family’s kitchen as their temporary embalming room.
  • Eventually, it became evident that a new space would be needed for funerals, as fewer families wanted it at their home or their homes were simply too small to hold a funeral.

At the time, furniture and cabinet makers, who were already enlisted to create caskets, began offering their larger facilities to families. Others began coordinating with local churches.

 

Cabinet makers started to “undertake” the emotionally difficult task of preparing and burying a body. As a result, these furniture makers began listing “undertaker” underneath their cabinet maker or carpenter store signs.

 

Specialization and Split

For years, furniture stores and funeral homes operated under one roof. Many cabinet makers were sent off to study and specialize in the art of embalming. As their education increased, these undertakers became highly specialized at their trade.

 

The emerging professionalism led to many dropping the term undertaker and opting for the title of funeral director. In 1882, the National Funeral Directors Association held its first official meeting and helped establish the profession we know today.

 

After adopting their new professional status, many funeral homes began solely focusing on funerals and began splitting off from their furniture store counterparts altogether.

 

Funeral Homes Today

While it’s pretty rare today, there are still some rural communities that house both furniture stores and funeral homes. But for the most part, the funeral home is now its own entity.

 

And just as hundreds of years ago saw the evolution of furniture stores to funeral homes, we are experiencing a similar evolution in the services and practices the modern funeral home provides.

  • Some funeral homes are expanding the services they offer. They host weddings, birthdays, and other community milestones. Some have started changing their names completely, removing the term funeral home and becoming “celebration event centers.”
  • Others are adding new grief centers to help families. They include grief workshops, classes, and even house full-time onsite therapists to help families in their time of need.
  • We’re also seeing some bold new ideas from some funeral homes. They’ve transformed their facilities, incorporating different themes. There are places designed with nature in mind, offering families gardens, parks, and nature paths to stroll through. Others are designed as traditional places of gathering, similar to bars or coffee shops, giving families a place to comfortably interact after a service.

Just as funeral homes evolved from a furniture store hundreds of years ago, we’re slowly seeing funeral homes evolve into the modern era. What will a funeral home look like 100 years from now? Download our free eBook, Future Funeral Trends, to find out.